21st Aug, 2020 Read time 3 minutes

Fall in farming deaths good news for the profession

The total number of deaths in the farming profession this year has fallen to 21 down from 49 in the previous year. The fall in fatalities is good news for the farming profession however from a health and safety perspective the profession still has a long way to go.

Agriculture has one of the highest fatality rates out of the major professions and the wide range of possible dangers are often difficult to manage under high workloads. The importance of agriculture to the UK economy means it is constantly looked at from a health and safety perspective.


What caused the fatalities in agriculture over the past year?

Many do not think of farming as a dangerous profession however the large number of variables, long working hours and exposure to the elements all present challenges which can lead to the opportunity of incidents to occur.

According to the HSE Executive’s report, the deaths came from a wide variety of causes.

  • 4 individuals were struck by an objective such as a bale or tree
  • 2 were killed by incidents involving cattle
  • 4 were killed by a fall from height
  • 2 were killed when working with machinery
  • 2 were trapped by something collapsing
  • 7 were struck by a moving vehicle

Most deaths occurred in the interaction with a vehicle such as a combine harvester or tractor. These vehicles are critical to the functioning of a farm and are used heavily during the working day.

Older workers (55+) were found to be disproportionately susceptible to fatalities when compared to younger farmworkers. Many are stressing for the need of all to take safety seriously in the profession to try and improve the safety record and save lives.


What can be done to improve the safety record? 

Whilst the industry still lags behind many in terms of the health and safety record, the drop-in fatalities and general signs of those entering the profession indicate that changes are being made.

Farm Safety Week has been run for 8 years now to promote good health and safety practices within the farming industry. The focus has been on keeping children safe in farms whilst also tackling distracted driving on fields and rural roads. This is a good step to take as a way of reminding those in the industry of the dangers that are present.

The training and development of young farmers have introduced a lot more around good health and safety practices, and many are entering the industry with a view of working safely both for themselves and their families.

Many in agriculture are stressing the need for more of the awkward conversations which challenge previous working patterns that have been embedded in the profession. A fresh look at the industry with a focus on behavioural safety may help to reduce the numbers even further. 21 is of course 21 too many.

Farming is recognised by the HSE Executive sector as the riskiest sector with a high number of deaths. The main reasons incidents occur are due to unnecessary risk-taking and the high number of workers who undertake activity by themselves.

One way that the profession could look to improve their safety record is a greater focus on some of the areas that other industries perform well in when it comes to health and safety.

Incorporating safeguards for lone workers and sharing information on safety-related incidents in the way that the oil, gas and aviation industries do could help further reduce the number of deaths that occur on farms.

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